Going Back to Chicago – Again

Well, close enough. We were actually headed to an area about 90 minutes outside of Chicago. This is the part of the trip I haven’t been looking forward too – because I know by the end of it, mini-man is going into surgery, I know, rationally, that it’s not major surgery, its just his teeth, but I think its engrained within every mom to worry about their kids when they’re in the hospital.

Before the kids woke up, Damon ran out to get himself a video game unit that he found on LetGo. We all woke up before he got back, but the boys were, surprisingly, okay with that.

Since our final destination, Elgin, Illinois, was too far from St. Louis to drive in one trip, we decided to stop halfway, Utica, Illinois. After our quick trip, we found ourselves in a very beautiful campsite surrounded by nature and very quiet.

The one downfall was the lack of cell service. But, this gave is the chance to try out our new cell phone booster. And, I’ve gotta say, it worked. I went from one bar to three, could surf the internet, and even download a few movies if I put my device right next to the booster.

Our only day there, we’d planned to do some errands but one kid fell asleep and the other wanted lunch, so I stayed behind while the other two went out. Of course, the other child fell asleep just moments before McDonald’s. They managed to get some shopping done once he woke up, but it meant that it took a little longer than we anticipated.

Completed the trip to Elgin the next day. What should’ve been a 90 minute trip became 2.5 hours, thanks to Damon’s RV GPS, which take you on the easier route – not the fastest. It wasn’t until we were almost done that we realized the error.

I was worried about this campsite, as its first-come, first-serve. Once we arrived, it was obvious that we had out pick of spots. I’m thrilled we got in – it’s close to a lot of amenities, including the place where mini-man is having his dental surgery. Once we settled on, we decided to hit some thrift stores. No big scores, but nice to get out.

After chilling out at home the next morning, we headed out for some more fun. First, we hit up a nearby playground and spent hours playing with the boys. It was amazing to see them having so much fun.

After a quick lunch, we did hit up a new thrift store and we scored big – got some Halloween costumes, a Bluetooth radio for Damon, some play sand for mini-man, some Elmo DVDs, roller skates, and some other nic-nacs. I love finding so much great stuff at a thrift store.

Now, this is our third time visiting this area, and – I still hate the traffic. Even out here, 2 hours away from Chicago, the traffic can be horrendous. At least there’s lots of side streets to maneuver around some of it, but it’s still not fun. It’s should never take 30 minutes to go a mile.

So the day we’d been waiting for had arrived – mini-mans surgery. We’d packed a lot the night before, so we were able to get the boys in the car fairly quickly. We arrived about an hour before the surgery. Mini-man didn’t like waiting but calmed down once we were taken into the pediatric waiting room.

The nurse gave him some medicine to make him groggy. This made it much easier to get him onto the bed. However, he’s still mini-man. When they started to wheel him away, he tried to get up despite being so tired. We gave him an iPad to watch Elmo while the doctors gave him the anesthesia – which they said helped immensely.

Once he got settled, Damon took little-dude out to shop and explore, which left me at the surgery center by myself. It wasn’t too bad. I thought the wait would be hard, but I had my iPad to play games and watch movies; the nurses came in every so often to give me snacks and say everything was going well.

Damon came back with little-dude when he fell asleep and went to get us some lunch. Just as he got back, mini-man was done. The dentist told us that it went well and they got everything done. Once they got started, they realized that mini-mans two front teeth were badly damaged. He thinks mini-man hit his mouth at some point and severely damaged his teeth. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be saved and if we’d left the teeth alone, we could’ve done damage to his adult teeth. At least we caught it when we did and he’ll just have no two front teeth for a while.

The next part was the hardest part – when they wheeled him in. He was crying and very upset. The doctors said this was a normal reaction to coming out of anesthesia- but still not easy to handle. The nurses placed him in my lap to help calm him down. Unfortunately, they did a really bad job of that – his IV got wrapped around him and they kept tugging at it to unwrap him. Then they decided to take it out, so they started, then stopped, then moved it. I couldn’t believe that they were doing it so fast and not realizing that they were hurting him.

Once they left, mini-man cuddled into me and calmed down. Then he got Elmo and became much happier. It had only been a few minutes, but the nurses were already kicking us out. I understand that they want to go home, but my three year old is just waking up – give me a few minutes. The staff that handled the surgery seemed to be trained with kids and were amazing with mini-man. The nurses that helped at the end seemed to not care at all and just wanted to go home.

The doctor recommended that we stay home and just have mini-man rest for the day, then resume normal activity the next day. However, mini-man is just like me and doesn’t like to be in bed when I’m sick. He wanted to jump and play and got very frustrated when he couldn’t do just that.

Thankfully, it was just as the doctor predicted and he was back to his normal self the next day. To celebrate how amazing his did, we took the boys back to the Randall Oaks Zoo. We visited this zoo the last time we were here and the boys loved it. This time, we tried feeding the animals. The boys were hesitant at first but soon got into it – mini-man even lost his cup to one of the goats!

Then we tried something just for mini-man – a pony ride. We hoped that he’d be ok with it since he’d seen a lot of videos of kids riding horses. He did great – he got on and had a lot of fun. It started to rain after the ride, we we took the boys home.

Our final day, we spent the morning kind of relaxing around the RV – playing and trying to get the boys to nap. That evening, we sped to Walmart for supplies for our drive the next day – it was six hours and there was no way we’d make it without food. The boys were great and even helped get the items we needed.

Once we got home, they continued to be so good that I got to cook! I’d been in the mood for Mexican food but since I’m trying to eat better, stayed away from it. Then I found a quesadilla recipe that was low in calories that I wanted to try. It turned out great! Even Damon and Little-dude liked it.

Then, surprisingly, the boys went to bed early. Which was great for our six hour drive to Detroit.

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Meet me in St. Louis – again!

One of the benefits of rescheduling our route for mini-man’s surgery was getting to go back to St. Louis. Since it was a long drive from Cincinnati, we decided to take a stop in Louisville. Thank goodness we did that, as little-dudes illness became much worse, and, of course, spread to the rest of us. As we drove, I could feel myself getting worse and worse.

Once we parked, I instantly hit the bedroom with little-dude and tried to rest. Unfortunately, little-dude developed a pretty high fever, which kept the both of us up.

You know he doesn’t feel good when he falls asleep without mommy

Saturday, we started to notice that mini-man was also getting sick. The day became a series of napping, cuddles, and crying. By bedtime, I was exhausted. Fortunately, little-dudes fever broke, which allowed the both of us to get some sleep.

Time to get going

We left early the next day for St. Louis to try and get ahead of traffic. At this point, mini-man was at the height of the illness, so he spent most of the drive napping and watching Elmo, while little-dude napped on me. I have to say, for one of our longer drives, it went pretty smoothly and fast. Thank goodness, as I was still feeling poorly and was able to lay down once we arrived – which turned into a group napping session for all of us.

Unfortunately, the last napping session led to a long night of very little sleep – which meant that we all slept in pretty late. One would hope for a relaxing day, but no.

A rare moment of brotherly snuggles

The boys were bouncing off the walls and needed to get out. So after I finished making dinner, we started collecting the boys swim stuff, which made mini-man very happy. Our RV Park is apart of the Queen Casino, so we have access to their indoor pool. I think it only took a few seconds for mini-man to get into the pool.

Mini-man couldn’t get in fast enough

The boys had so much fun that they passed on the way to get them lunch. We tried to stop for a quick grocery stop, but, as every parent knows, as soon as the car stops the kids wake up. At least they were well behaved and had fun shopping with us.

Zonked!

Tuesday was another late morning for us. Fortunately, out RV park is minutes from the heart of downtown St. Louis and used that to our advantage. A quick car ride later, and we were at the famous St. Louis Arch. This structure, built in 1967, symbolizes the westward expansion of the United States. Something I did not know, is that people have been able to go up to the top since it first opened.

We later learned on our steamboat ride down the Mississippi River, that the Arch center had just completed. Multi-year renovation. Why we didn’t see that at the actual Arch center is weird. Instead, we saw was a newly built museum that covered the history of St. Louis from the 1700s to modern day.

It’s pretty big

We rushed through this part to get to the tram on the other side to take us to the top. After we got in line, mini-man started crying because he hates waiting (you know, cause he’s three) and one of the tour guides came over and started making fun of him, talking down to him, then started making fun of him to the couple behind us! I’ve never seen such rude behavior towards a three year old. Then she continued to come back and try to “help”. Thank goodness the line started moving before I lost it on her. I filed a complaint with her boss later on. It’s one thing to offer help, in case the child is freaking out. It’s another to make fun of a child for being a child.

And, just as I thought, as soon as we started moving, mini-man calmed down. I thought he’d hate the tram ride, as it was a very tight container filled with five of us! But he just stared out the window the whole time and was fine.

Once at the top, we could see a lot of downtown St. Louis and our RV park, which was just across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Illinois. We only stayed a few minutes, as there’s nothing to do at the top. Damon could’ve stayed for hours looking at buildings but I didn’t think that was fair to the boys.

I can seie my house from here

We checked out the museum after we fcame back down. It was very detailed, but the boys were very tired and wanted their naps. Since we came later in the day, we had to wait until the next day to go on the boat tour.

Trains!

OMG! I loved this tour. First off, it’s an old paddle boat, called Thomas Sawyer, from the Mark Twain Era. Three levels, each was a great view of the Mississippi River. We tried to sit outside, but the boys overheated pretty quickly (unusual 90+ weather), so we headed inside. I grabbed some drinks and popcorn and we enjoyed the ride in the AC. I loved this because the boys could walk around, explore, stay cool, while Damon and I enjoyed the tour. In my opinion,ic much better than the day before.

Thursday was our much-awaited return to City Museum. We loved it so much last time and we’re thrilled to go back. But as the saying goes, we make plans and your children laugh at you (or something like that 😋).

My guys ❤️

Mini-man knew where we were instantly. We tried to show him some of the outdoor stuff, but he quickly led us to his favorite spot – Toddler Town. Unbeknownst to us, this area was being sanitized and most of it was off limits. Try explaining that to a three year old. We played in other areas, but after a few hours, mini-man led us back to the car. He was done.

Damon and I were disappointed. We’d planned to stay all day. We tried to take a break in the car, then go back, but to no avail. So I offered to Damon that we go back to the RV and he could go to the museum by himself.

The boys were so happy to be home. They instantly started playing and watching Elmo. Damon managed to slip out and spend two fun hours exploring the museum – going places he couldn’t go with us.

Damon in heaven

As for us, the boys and I spent the two hours just playing – both inside and out. Sometimes rethinking the original plan turns out better than you anticipated.

Playing, together!?!

When we woke up the next day, the boys made it pretty clear that they wanted to stay home and play. Knowing Damon doesn’t like toe cooped up all day, I offered to let him go out for few hours to run errands. It was fun to be with the boys by myself. Little-dude napped for a bit, which gave me some one-on-one time with mini-man.

Love our one-on-one time

After little-dude woke up, all played with Lego’s and trains while watching Curious George until Damon came home. Mini-man even got surprised with a set of Magna-tiles – which he instantly opened up and hasn’t stopped playing with.

The boys love these more open-ended toys

On our last day, we ended up staying home again – this time due to a wonky sleep schedule. The boys konked out around 7p the night before and both were up at 3a. After a few hours of playing, we all went back to bed at 5:30a. Then at 7a, little-dude popped up – so Damon played with him with him until mini-man woke up at 10. Of course, this is when little-dude was ready to go back to sleep.

How is this comfortable?

On the plus side,we managed to get a lot of projects completed and were ready to our drive the day.

Not a bad way to end the trip

Cincinnati, or Cincy to it’s Close Friends

This trip got off to a bit of a rocky start. The night before we realized that the RV wouldn’t start – we think it had something to do with the boys playing with buttons near the steering wheel, burning out the battery. After charging the battery for a while, we tried again and … it still didn’t start. After fiddling for a bit, we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Luckily, the RV comes with an emergency start button – which essentially starts the engine using the RV batteries, which are separate from the battery that drives the RV. At least we could drive in the morning and get someone to look at the electrical in Cincinnati.

I helped hook up the car!

Then, to our surprise, the truck just started working. After driving for a bit, we stopped for some gas and the truck just worked. Maybe something just started working or we have some engine fairies. At least we won’t have to worry about it for a while.

On the road!

The rest of the drive was pretty smooth, until we arrived at the campground. Google, in its infinite wisdom, directed us down a road with no outlet or place to turn around. We assumed this led to the campground. We were close – it was one street over, and, no, it did not connect. We managed to find a stable that let us turn around and go back the right way. What’s even crazier is as we made it to the check-in point, Google was trying to tell us to turn around. It’s usually very reliable, but this time it was really off.

Saturday was a rainy day, so we took the kids to the Newport Aquarium. This place was highly recommended, so I was excited to take the boys. However, I was disappointed – from the ticketing process to the exhibits, it was just a let down.

Another picture mom?

We arrived and found a massive line for tickets, so I went online. We encountered an error, so we called the helpline only to be told that we couldn’t buy tickets because of the long line. The way the sell tickets it’s by times and the next available wasn’t for two hours. This made no sense as the website showed a lot of a availability, so we just tried again for the next time slot. Guess what happened – it worked and we walked right in. Thanks for the help, helpline.

Ones asleep and ones into the penguins. At least we’re all in a picture together

The actual aquarium is nice, but it really annoyed me that I paid for mini-man to go in and none of the exhibits were at kid height. Even in the kids section, the exhibits we’re above most of their heads. Why charge for little kids of they can’t enjoy the exhibits. We wound up carrying the kids most of the time just so they could see stuff. All-in-all, not a fun experience. I would recommend this place for those with older kids or as a date place, but if you have young kids, skip it and go to the Children’s Museum in Cincinnati.

The next day was another rainy day, but we enjoyed just staying home and playing on the floor with the kids. Sometimes, that’s all you need – just a quiet place to play with your kids.

I’ve never heard of this set, but the boys love it

Monday was, yup you guessed it, rainy. So we decided to check out the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, which is housed in a 1940’s art deco train station. This building is gorgeous! I wish we could’ve seen more but it was under construction.

Reminds me of Radio City Music Hall

The station is no longer an active train station and now houses multiple museums. We visited the children’s museum and it was awesome. The museum spans multiple rooms and is filled with activities – climbing, balls, pretend, building, and water play. The boys had so much fun, we ended up staying for four hours!

We chose to let the kids play instead of going to lunch, so after the museum we took the boys to an early dinner. We also hoped it would make it easier to take the boys grocery shopping.

They’re sitting next to each other

Ha! We ended up dragging two, crying little boys through the store. That is until we got to the ice cream – once mini-man spotted his favorite ice cream he calmed down. It even led to some dancing in the produce section.

During a much needed down day, where we played at home, Alex led Damon to another family in the park who are finishing their full-time RV experience. They exchanged stories and gave some recommendations on what to do in the area, including a local train exhibit, called Entertrainment Junction.

Toot toot!

We checked it out the next day and it did not disappoint. This awesome place housed one of the largest train layouts we’d ever seen. Additionally, there were ride on trains, climb on trains, train tables, and a bunch of stuff to entertain the boys. We had a wonderful time as a family. We would’ve loved to stay longer, but the boys had horrible nights sleeps, and soon started wearing down.

But that didn’t stop us from hitting a few stores on the way home. Our first stop was a bust, but mini-man did have fun trying on a pair of too-big roller blades. Guess it’s time to get him some skates of his own. Then we stopped at IKEA for some food plus a couple of things we’d been wanting to get.

Love his choice of helmet

Out last day, we hung out at the campsite. I honestly don’t remember too much of what we did – at this point, I was exhausted. Little-dude was starting to get sick, so I wasn’t getting any sleep. I remember at one point, mini-man wanted to go swimming and started putting on his swim suit. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to a pool, so Damon tried to help by putting together the kiddie pool. Didn’t work at all. I am very grateful that we have access to a pool at our upcoming stop in St. Louis.

He likes to fill up the pool

But before we get there, we have to stop in Louisville.

Cleveland, Rocks!

At least according to the all-knowing Drew Carey. We started our long journey to Cleveland early in hopes of getting a starting while the boys were still asleep. It half worked – little-dude woke up just as we were leaving, but mini-man stayed asleep.

What seemed to help was dividing the day up into smaller parts and stoping about every 90 minutes. Our first break was to meet up with a guy who was selling his Rokenbok set (I’d never heard of this stuff until Damon found it at a Goodwill and the kids just love it).

We then set forth to the half-way point of our journey – Elkhart, Indiana – for lunch. We managed to find a McDonalds with a playplace, and truck parking (bonus!). It was the perfect stop as it gave us adults a break and the kids could climb and play.

I’m up high!

Our third stop was turned into just a restroom break for Damon, as both kids had fallen asleep, which always makes the drive easier. They both woke up just as we arrived at the campground, both needing to get out of the RV. I have to say, despite this being such a long drive – they both did very well.

Unfortunately, the long day plus the long naps meant that the kids were up late. Fortunately, we have a nice campsite that we can enjoy and they could play. It’s really cute to see mini-man set himself up at the picnic table with his paint set and just go to town.

Painting outside in the dark

Saturday, we accomplished something new – mini-mans first haircut. You may have noticed that he has long hair. That is three years worth of hair growth for him. It looks like he inherited my hair growth and thickness. A while ago, Damon and I started to notice that his bangs were bothering him and the back of his hair was constantly getting tangled.

Really well behaved for his first time

On our way to Goodwill, we noticed a haircut place next door that had no waiting. We talked about getting mini-mans haircut and this seemed like a great opportunity. Damon and I were both nervous as to how he’d react – he’d never done this before. To our surprise, he sat there and just watched. He seemed fascinated with the whole process. And when it was done, he looked so cute! I think he feels better too.

He looks so different

After our stops, we headed home and spent the evening planning our new route. Now that we need to go back to Chicago, we needed to figure out where to go next. After planning so many stops, we were back to having no place to go. Thankfully, we are passed Labor Day and parks now have tons of availability. If you check out our leg #5 post, you can see our updated itinerary.

New route!

Sunday was a mini Great Movie Ride reunion, when we met up with our old friend Jasmine at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. It was great to catch up with her and talk about our travels, kids, and Bitcoin.

I’m a shark 🦈

The aquarium was adorable. It was Jasmine’s daughters first visit, as well, and she loved seeing all the fish. My kids, just wanted to be held the whole time, but they still liked looking at the fish.

We’re all looking at the camera!

On our way back, both boys fell asleep, so i took the opportunity to go shoe shopping. This is my biggest vice – i love shoes! Damon dropped me off at DSW, and I headed straight for the clearance section, which was filled with amazing, colorful shoes from the summer. Pro tip: When its back to school time, they put the cute, summer heels on sale!. I hadn’t been to a DSW in years and loved looking at all the shoes. I had a pile within minutes. I did manage to narrow down my finds to just two pairs (I remembered d that I lived in an RV and probably couldn’t store more than two) – a cute pair of flats and some amazing Jessica Simpson red heels.

Shoes!

Labor Day Monday was our originally scheduled leave date. However, after looking at the campground bookings, and seeing what Cleveland had to offer, we decided to extend our stay. Plus, with literally everyone leaving, we had our pick of sites and moved our rig to a campsite with some nice shade and fun area for the boys to play in.

Since everyone else was leaving in the morning, we decided to take the boys out for a while. We did some grocery shopping and hit some thrift stores. When we returned, almost all of the RV’s and tents were gone. It’s amazing how much difference a day makes. Now that we’re past this holiday, every campground has unlimited availability.

What a difference a day makes

On Tuesday, we trekked an hour into Cleveland to check out the Cleveland Children’s Museum. While an hour in the car with two boys can be taxing, it was worth it. This children’s museum opened about a year ago in an old mansion and it’s amazing. The main floor had a water room filled with balls, tunnels, and scarfs – lots of hands on fun. The adjacent room had a huge, two-story tree house with multiple rooms, each with a different activity – like a grocery store, a hospital, mechanic, and garden. There was so much to do on this floor that we never left it. Damon explored the other floors, which had art, reading, and a room dedicated to doll houses. It was really one of the best children’s museums we’ve visited.

Lots of fun!

Unfortunately for me, something was effecting my head, making it very difficult to get rid of a particularly nasty migraine. Looking back, I think the rainy weather might’ve had something to do with it. By the time we got home from the kids museum, I was in a lot of pain. I was hoping a good nights sleep would help, but, alas, it did not. In an effort to combat this, I spent a large part of the next day in bed, trying to relax away the headache. While I did that, Damon played with the kids.

More painting outside at night

As Thursday was our final day, we made a list of things to accomplish – cleaning, Sam’s club, lunch, and packing up. It seems to help when we put together a list – we accomplish a lot and makes our travel day much easier.

We had a lot of fun at this stop and I’m looking forward to our next destination – Cincinnati, Ohio, where we have a lot planned.

Time to go!

Chicago 2.0

Well our second time in Chicago was certainly interesting and confirmed one thing for me – I definitely don’t want to live here. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some amazing amenities and attractions but the combination of horrific traffic and excruciatingly, frustrating toll roads, makes Chicago not the place for me.

I wish driving was this easy

The upside to this stop is it was only 90 minutes to get there. But, this also means that our next drive is really long. After, we parked at our campsite, we took the kids out to play. Unlike the parking lot we boondocked at the last time we were in Chicago, this campground had a pool, playground, and minigolf. We had a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, not being near Chicago meant that when we wanted to get into the downtown area, it took almost two hours! Which is near impossible to do with two toddlers in the car.

Somehow we managed to make it into the City without too much stress, just in time for our sailing trip on Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the weather people were dead wrong about the weather. Instead of beautiful weather and nice winds, we got very forceful winds that made the trip very choppy. We made it maybe five minutes before we aborted. If it were Damon and myself, we probably would have toughed it out. But we didn’t want the kids to be uncomfortable, so we went back.

Fastest sailing trip we’ve ever done

Instead, we went to a playground to figure out our next move. We thought about a kids musuem or something to entertain the boys, but they were very tired, so we started the journey back home, with some stops along the way to make the drive easier. Unfortunately, traffic at 3p still sucks and took twice as long to get anywhere.

The next day, we tried to stay close to the campground and check out some thrift stores near by. While we enjoyed our hunt, and found some fun things, the driving was just unbearable.

Our last day became an unexpected, adventure with some fun parts to it. We noticed mini-mans teeth needed some attention, so we took him to the dentist. Just as we thought, he needed some work. Unfortunately, he would barely let the dentist touch him without screaming, so we couldn’t address any of his issues. We decided it would be best to schedule him for surgery – it’ll be easier on mini-man and we can get everything done at one time.

Loved that the waiting room was entertaining for kids

The staff was fantastic and great with mini-man. All-in-all, he did pretty good – he didn’t bite or run away, he just screamed (which is understandable).

Little-dude likes to do anything mini-man is doing

After lunch, we took him to the pediatrician to get a check-up and a form signed for his surgery. After so much, we decided to take him somewhere to play. We passed a children’s zoo by the dentist and decided to check it out.

Brushing goats

Oh my gosh, this place was adorable. Really small, but it had a huge enclosure with the friendliest goats I’ve ever seen. Mini-man stayed there for an hour, following them, brushing them, and having a wonderful time.

He didn’t want to leave ❤️

Once we got home, we did what we usually do – we got ready to go. With so much that happened, we knew we had some re-planning to do for mini-man’s surgery. At least its really easy to make new arrangements. Plus, we might get to do some fun stuff along the way. Now to face a six hour drive to Cleveland!!!

Time to hit the road

Madison, Wisconsin

After our stop in Minnesota, we decided to turn around and head to the east coast. Our first stop brought us to the capital of Wisconsin – Madison. The drive was fairly smooth.

It was a beautiful day and a great place to take a break

We planned to stop half way at a playground for lunch and some exercise. This worked really well. The boys loved playing and it even wore them out for the rest of the drive to Madison.

Our first day was the only nice day we had during our stay, so we made sure to enjoy it. We started with painting outside. Min-man loved getting to play with water colors while little-dude liked making a mess and soon moved onto playing with water.

Little-dude likes to do everything mini-man does

Later, we headed to the playground, where the both of them played on everything – and there was a lot on this playground. This wore out little-dude, who took a nap while min-man enjoyed the pool.

The next day, it was drizzly and cold. Much colder than this Florida girl is used to in August. Usually, when it rains in Florida it gets hotter. In Wisconsin, it gets into the 60s! And silly, me, I worse a thin long sleeve shirt thinking that would work for the day.

It wasn’t so bad at our first few stops, a thrift store and camping world, but when we took the boys to the playground, I began to shiver. After a stop at another Goodwill, I managed to find some cute sweaters for a great deal and they kept me much warmer.

After a stop at Walmart and Costco, we had the car filled to the brim (even piling it up between the kids), we headed home. It was a long evening, as both boys had very short naps and were both very cranky.

We spent our last day being home bodies. Damon took mini-man to the pool and playground, while little-dude and I napped. When we woke up, mini-man had fallen asleep, so he took his nap while the rest of us cleaned up for the next days drive. The only down side to late naps is the kids stay up late.

Thankfully, the drive to our next stop, Chicago, is very short.

A Year in Review

One year ago, after about 12 weeks of planning, we officially started our RV adventure. I had just given birth to little-dude and we were in the process of selling our home when we spent our first night in our new Coachman Catalina travel trailer. To say I was nervous/scared/skeptical is an understatement. I mean, who does this – travel in an RV with two small kids!?! What would people think?

Good bye house, Hello tiny living!

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the knowledge that something else is more important

Seeing how passionate Damon was for this adventure assured me that we were doing something right. Plus, we have always had an agreement that if something doesn’t work, change it!

Trying to fit 1200 sqft into 300 sqft

After deciding to visit Vermont, we set about crafting the perfect route – trying to hit as many beaches as we could along the way . That quickly went out the window when a little storm called Hurricane Irma decided to follow that same route. Thinking fast, we changed our plans and left sooner rather than we had planned. By September, we were on our way to Tennessee.

Of course the storm decided to change course and follow us to Tennessee

In a way, we got some training under fire – we had our first big road trip while thousands of Floridians were also trying to get out of the state. What should’ve been a three hour drive to the border of Florid/Georgia, took nearly 10 hours! As you can imagine, we were thrilled to arrive at our campsite – which was full of other RVer’s escaping the storm.

I still remember how beautiful this park was. I wish we could’ve stayed longer #stupidirma

We were up early the next day and headed to Atlanta – another drive that should’ve been just three hours that became seven. Two long days of driving with tow young kids and we were wiped. Thankfully, we had a large car where we could spread out and entertain the kids without having to stop to much.

Our stop in Atlanta is still one of our favorite places – ultra beautiful and large sites

Now, part of this craziness is neither Damon, nor I, had ever driven or hooked up a travel trailer. Fortunately, Damon watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to set up and credits video games for his mad driving skills (an awesome reason to video games). This, plus a certain amount of luck, and we managed to get up the east coast pretty quickly without any problems.

Is there anything this amazing man can’t do?

Our luck seemed to run out by the time we hit Kentucky, where we encountered several problems:

  • Hazard, Kentucky: our first flat tire. We were lucky to breakdown next to a festival where the people were very friendly and happily helped us.
Perfect time to learn that we hard the wrong spare tire for our trailer

It’s amazing how helpful strangers can be when you are in trouble.

Virginia : Electrical problems. This time we weren’t so lucky. We arrived at our campground late only to find that we couldn’t move the slides or turn anything on. We spent the trip in a hotel room while we tried to get it fixed. We managed to get everything working, except the kitchen slide – which would take weeks to fix

What a great time to learn that all of our electrical stopped working

Vermont: By the time we reached Vermont we managed to really break something – the break on our car. Somehow, we broke the break in half – something the mechanic had never seen and couldn’t figure out we did it. Turns out, that trying to break the trailer with car breaks isn’t a great idea.

We learned quickly that inexpensive travel trailers aren’t built for long road trips.

We also learned how much stuff we didn’t need. When we started, I had every cabinet crammed full of stuff. By the time reached Vermont, about half of was gone. I realized that we weren’t using most of it and we donated it.

It’s amazing to see how much stuff you have just because you think you need it.

By the middle of October, we’d reached Vermont and were ready to get back to the warmth. Now, we’d assumed that going south = warmth. Ya, not so much.

After making our way through New York, which wasn’t easy, we stopped at Niagara Falls. While we thought we’d end up in some tourist trap what we found was a beautiful waterfall. I’m glad we stopped to see it.

When we stopped in Mississippi where we had a beautiful site near a river. We made the mistake of leaving our windows open and came home to a trailer full of mosquitoes! I refused to stay and insisted we stay in a hotel while we figured out how to get rid of those pesky bugs. It took three bug zappers and two days to finally clear them all out.

I couldn’t get out of the trailer fast enough

This stop is also where we said goodbye to our two cats. While we loved them, they weren’t enjoying the constant travel. While we tried, nothing was making life easier for them. My parents met us in Mississippi and took them back to their home in Orlando, where they are enjoying a comfy life.

We loved our kitties enough to say goodbye

As we entered Texas, we stopped at a beautiful lakeside campsite that was the perfect opportunity to use our drone. What happened next was a true comedy of errors – we sent the drone up without a phone and it ended up getting stuck over the water. When we did attach the phone, it needed an update! It took some effort, but we managed to get the drone back just before the battery died.

Lesson learned – look before you fly

I can still hear Damon cursing up a storm during all of this

We decided to stop in San Antonio for Christmas. I didn’t want to travel too much during the holiday, which can be crazy. Plus San Antonio offered a lot of activities. It also gave us an amazing opportunity to finally get the trailer fixed.

First time, in my adult life, experiencing snow right outside my front door.

We rented a house for a week while the repairs were being done and realized there was quite a bit that we missed about living in a house. This inspired Damon to start looking at alternatives to our travel trailer. We’re pretty picky and knew what we wanted in a new unit would be hard to find.

It was great to have so much space again – but still a pain to clean up.

Then he showed me the floor plan of the Thor Challenger – a class A with a smaller kitchen but much better layout than our current travel trailer. Luckily, there was one not too far away that we could tour. As soon as I stepped inside I knew it was for us. It felt so comfortable compared to the travel trailer. Even the boys felt right at home.

Our new ride!

We were ready to buy that day but this dealership wanted too much for it and wouldn’t negotiate. The seller even tried to pull the “well someone else is interested” tactic. Ya, nice try. A little research showed that a similar unit was four hours away and for $20,000 less! It didn’t have everything the first one had, but it was all stuff we could have installed for less than the $20,000. Merry Christmas to us.

Just a bit of an upgrade

Now how could we afford this after not working for six months? Just as we found this unit, our investment in Bitcoin went up significantly, allowing us to purchase this new unit without financing.

We rang in 2018 with our first official trip in our new RV – to a mechanic about 30 minutes away to have some of things added to the RV. To make life easier, we had a dish washer and a washer/dryer added. It took a week but it was worth it – we use both items several times a week.

These have truly been time savers for us.

We continued it’s our tradition of picking a destination and heading there – this time we picked Victoria, Canada, home of the Butchart Gardens.

From the South back up to the North

The first several months of our trip was plagued with illness. It felt like every stop, someone was sick and I would, inevitably, get sick. Just as we got to the Grand Canyon, and it seemed like we were on the mend, my teeth started to hurt. I discovered that I had an infection in my back tooth and it needed to be removed.

This was a massive pain in my mouth

This process took weeks and kept us in the Grand Canyon area for a while. Fortunately, it was February and not a popular time for the RV park, so they had plenty of room. But trust me, we were more than ready to leave. Especially after it starts snowing. Who knew it snowed at the Grand Canyon.

lesson learned: it can snow in the desert. Don’t assume it’ll be warm just because it’s in the Southern part of the country

Didn’t expect this!

Once we got the all clear, we hightailed it to California. We really wanted to stay on schedule for Victoria, in hopes of spending most of the summer in the Midwest, away from the heat of the South (ha!)

Absolutely amazing!

We seemed to find perfect weather in Los Angeles, where we lounged by the pool (to the delight of mini-man), visited Disneyland, and toured our old neighborhood in Glendale.

Of course we went to Disneyland

Literally, our next stop brought us back to snow. I was really excited to see the Sequoia National Forest and Redwood Forest, I just wish it was warmer. These drives up into the Pacific North West were stunning, but definitely not built for RVs. These drives almost always took longer than we anticipated.

Yosemite was one of my favorite paces to visit

We were pleasantly surprised with our stop in Oregon, when we discovered the Oregon Aquarium. This simple aquarium is filled with amazing exhibits that offer something we rarely see at any other aquarium – space. The boys had tons of room to see everything, even when it was busy. By far, our favorite aquarium and highly recommend visiting if you get the chance.

Shark…wow.

The majority of our trip up to Victoria involved taking the 101 highway. This is, what I’d call, a great driving road -the twists and turns take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. However, if your driving in an RV, it can also be one of the most stressful roads you can drive. The twists and turns slow you way down. So I have a love/hate relationship with the 101 – it’s beautiful but stressful.

The 101 was not made for RV’s

By mid-may, we’d made it to Victoria. About five years prior, we’d visited Victoria on an Alaskan cruise but could only stay a couple of hours. Since the , I’d been eager to return and was thrilled when we arrived. Victoria is a beautiful place and we enjoyed seeing the Butchart Gardens and exploring the area.

Still one of my favorite places on earth

While we stayed in Victoria, I noticed that history repeated itself a little bit for us. Five months after getting the Travel Trailer, we stayed in a house in San Antonio . Here, five months after getting the Class A, we stayed in a condo in Victoria. The first time we realized we wanted a new unit and bought the Class A. The second time reaffirmed our decision and that we loved our Class A.

Nice place to eat strawberries

Once we got back to the RV, we started planning our next stop leg and decided to make Chicago our next targeted stop. After studding our trusty map, I noticed that we could fill in a lot of states along the way.

Headin’ for the Midwest

I’ve heard that summer can be tough to get reservations for RV parks. But we found with some planning and staying away from popular areas, we could find plenty of places to stay. That included Mt. Rushmore!

A nice surprise in Idaho

Our stop in Salt Lake City pleasantly surprised me. I only knew the city to be the home of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But what we found was a beautiful, friendly city with an amazing aquarium and fantastic thrift stores.

As Floridians, were not used to pools being closed due to cold weather (except once in a blue moon)

In our eagerness to collect states, we forgot one important thing -it was summer. Most of the cities were fine and gave us wonderful opportunities to enjoy taking the boys to nearby lakes (which we hadn’t done before). However, we were faced with 100+ degree heat. Unfortunately, our poor AC units couldn’t handle the heat and the RV became quite steamy. Our solution to tape space blankets to the outside of the RV worked fairly well. Paired with dips in the kids pool and trips to local attractions and we managed to survive the heat.

Baby, it’s HOT outside!

Our biggest surprise, to date, came when we came to Missouri. I wasn’t expecting too much and was amazed at how much we enjoyed the ‘Show Me State’. From boating at Table Rock Lake and not having to worry about gators to exploring St. Louis and loving the City Museum, we think we’ve found an awesome state.

Home of the 1904 World’s Fair and 1904 Olympics!

After a quick stop in Indiana, we made it to our last stop in Chicago, where we boondocked for our longest stint ever – one full week. The advantage to this, was it forced us to get out everyday. We rode our bikes, went to the beach, and visited some wonderful local attractions.

We also met up with Damon’s parents and brother during our stay

We started our next leg heading back to the Midwest to get two more states before we headed to the east coast. We enjoyed seeing Wisconsin and the Mall of America in Minnesota. Our original plan had us going through Wisconsin to Canada and into New York. However, after extensive research, most of the stops in Canada didn’t offer much for the kids to do. So we altered out plans and headed into Canada through Michigan.

We were in this neck of the woods about a year ago.

We ran into some snags thanks to the Labor Day Holiday, which made it difficult to find any place to stay. We finally found something in Cleveland, which means that we are starting our second year on the road with a six hour drive (yikes!).

After a year on the road we’ve visited 36 states, driven 13,000 miles and stayed at over 70 campgrounds. We’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, and created a lot of amazing memories. It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Now onto our next leg!

Home sweet home

Wisconsin and SPAM

WE left Chicago assuming it was a short trip. This short trip became six hours after we spent a couple of hours looking for gas. We’d used a lot of gas while boondocking – we still had some, but not enough to go all the way to our next stop.

I swear when we finally parked at the state park in the Wisconsin Dells, the boys jumped at the chance to go outside and play in the dirt. We pulled out a lot of the outdoor toys and the boys went to town.

On our one day in the town, we took a train ride through the dells. This small railroad is adorable and the boys loved it. They both sat and watched the woods go by, both making choo-choo sounds.

Thanks to the rain, we spent the rest of the day playing at home. By the evening, the boys wanted to play outside again and didn’t let a little rain stop them. I guess we spent a little too much time in the concrete jungle for our boys taste.

We were surprised to wake up to rain the next day. The forecast predicted the rain would stop overnight, so we left our outdoor stuff outside to dry. Oh, well. At least most of it was under the awning.

We spent the morning relaxing and playing outside a bit, but soon got antsy so we went to explore Minnesota a bit. We hit a goodwill and took the kids to an awesome playground. A nice, low key, family day.

I woke up on Saturday, exhausted. I think little-dude is having a growth spurt which is causing him to have restless sleep – which gives me no sleep. In times like this, I do stuff. So I started cleaning and reorganizing the toys. But since I’d just done that a few weeks prior, there wasn’t much to do, so I moved onto route planning.

I mentioned before that we had no reservations after this stop. I don’t like having nothing, so i started plotting our next route. We kept putting it off because we couldn’t figure out our next steps. Once I was able to plot out an easy efficient route, Damon started making reservations.

After hours of planning and researching, we were frazzled and wanted to get out of the house. After grabbing some lunch, we headed to the iconic Mall of America. And boy was I surprised.

I’m used to malls that go on forever, that have overcrowded food courts and can feel overwhelming. This place, despite its reputation for having a roller coaster/theme park inside, never felt overwhelming. The designers did a wonderful job designing the building so that we always felt comfortable. Even for a sunday, which was supposed to be busy, it never felt like it was.

We took the kids to the Crayola Experience, similar to the one we’ve taken them too in Orlando, and they had fun climbing and crawling. We even got an annual pass, as it was only $10 more, per person, and it’s good at ALL their locations!

After a grabbing some food, we wondered around a bit, checking out the Nickeledeon theme park area and the Lego Store. I even bought the boys a new Duplo set that I hadn’t seen before, but new they’d love since it was full of animals.

I woke up the next day excited to get back to the Mall of America and see some of their awesome attractions. Unfortunately, I was met with disappointment.

We stopped at the Sea Life Aquarium first, thinking the boys would like to see fish. About a third of the way in, Mini-man had a melt-down and refused to go on. Damon took him out, while little-dude and I finished. Afterwards, it took a while to find Damon and mini-man in the mall. Once we caught up both boys passed out and took long naps. Which left Damon and me to sit on an uncomfortable bench for hours.

We tried to regroup once we got food and tried to go through the aquarium again. Which led to another melt down. I was feeling quite frustrated – I cou;don’t figure out why mini-man was so upset. As a last ditch effort, we went to Crayola, where mini-man calmed down while playing with some play dough. Unfortunately, we went in just as they were closing, Mini-man did not want to leave, so he had another melt-down.

Damon’s quick thinking led us back to the big playground, where the boys enjoyed climbing, swinging, and getting wet on the splash pad.

By the time we got home, I was emotionally spent. I wanted to do so much at the Mall but didnt get to do any of them.

On our last day, we decided to approach the day differently, trying to learn our lesson from the day before. Instead of going straight to the Mall, we went to a playground. This place was close to the RV and was really cute. Made of all wood and shaped like a castle, this structure offered a lot of climbing and exploring opportunities for the boys. After about an hour, we all left happy.

After a quick break for lunch, we headed to the Mall for one last trip. First stop – Moose Mini Golf. This was interesting, as the boys had their own way of playing that involved wanting to play the same whole, over and over again.

Next we headed to Crayola to give the boys plenty of time to play. Little-dude fell asleep, so Damon held him while I played with mini-man. I assumed he wanted to climb but he took to painting and sat there for an hour! I think a paint set is in his future.

After Crayola closed, Damon took the boys to Lego while I went to ride Paul Bunyon Log Ride at Nickelodeon Universe. Very cute but the audio-animatonics were very outdated. I shared a car with two girls who didnt want to get wet, so I laughed every time they squealed at the water. I’m glad I got to ride.

When I met back up with Damon, mini-man was fast asleep so we headed back to the car. Since we were leaving the next day, we decided to stop to grab some supplies. while we were shopping we found a Barbie Power Wheels camper – adorable!

Now that we’re finished in Minnesota, we’re turning around and making our way to the east coast. First up – Madison, Wisconsin.

Updated: Heartswell Adventures: Leg #5

Update: please see our updated itinerary below

Phew! I think this is the longest we’ve ever waited to start planning our next leg. We knew we wanted to head to the east coast, but kept changing how we were going to get there. First, it was through Wisconsin and into Canada. Then, since we didn’t know if I would have a passport in time, we thought about skipping Canada, and go through the US to New York. Now that I have my passport, we seemed to have settled on Michigan to Canada to New Hampshire. It’s an easy route that hits several places we want to visit. So here is our next leg!

Then we hit a little snag, called Labor Day weekend. It seems that everyone with an RV up here goes camping that weekend. We spent days trying to find anything we could get and finally settled on a place near Cleveland , which has altered our route, somewhat.

Updated Map: Decided to do a loop-de-loop
  • Wisconsin Dells:
      • Water Park capital of the United States, this place looks like a cute place to visit
  • St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota
      • Mall of America!
  • Madison, Wisconsin:
      • Found a place with a pool, so we plan to relax and prep for our long journey to Toronto
  • Chicago, Illinois:
      • We had a fun time in Chicago and it’s the perfect place to stop for the holiday weekend before we press on.

UPDATE: After our stop in Chicago, we learned that mini-man needs dental surgery. One of the benefits of our life is our schedule is very flexible. So we’ve altered our trip a bit to get us back to Chicago for the surgery

  • Cleveland, Ohio:
      • This is a six hour drive! We have a place to stop if we need to, but for now, we plan to drive the whole thing. It’s one of the only places we found a campsite for the holiday weekend. Kept this stop as it was still a holiday weekend and the only place we could find
    • New Stop: Cincinnati, Ohio

    New Stop: Cincinnati, Ohio
        • As long as we have to change our route, might as well swing by one of the best aquariums in the country

      New Stop: Louisville, Kentucky

        • A quick stop on our way to…

      New Stop: St. Louis, Missouri!!!

        • We made it back and we have a long list of things we want to do, including: the St. Louis Arch, City Museum, and a boat tour

      New Stop: Chicago #3

        • Back for mini-mans surgery

      New Stop: Kalamazoo, Michigan

        • Who wouldn’t want to stop here!?! Just to say you’ve been to Kalamazoo

      New Stop: Detroit

        • Quick stop before Canada
      • Toronto, Canada:
          • When I was first researching Canada, Toronto kept showing lots of places to visit with kids, so I’m excited to stop here.
      • Ottawa, Canada:
          • Looks like riding the canal is a must do, so we must do it!
      • Montreal, Canada:
          • I was excited to visited the bio dome here, but it’s closed til next year. I guess we’ll find something to do. It’s faster to just go into the states, so we’re skipping Montreal
      • New Stop: Colchester, Vermont
          • A pretty stop and a faster way to get to New Hampshire
      • Twin Mountain, New Hampshire:
          • We enjoyed visiting New Hampshire when we stopped in Vermont last year. Can’t to see what else is there.
      • Portland, Maine:
          • I’ve heard that Maine is beautiful in the fall. Looking forward to seeing this area.
      • Boston, Massachusetts
          • Damon grew up just outside of Boston, so he’s excited to take the boys to the Children’s Museum and Aquarium

      Were really excited for this leg of our journey. Let us know if there are any must do’s along the way.

      Bookdocking

      Boondocking is an RV term, which means to camp without any water or electrical hook-ups. We first tried this type of camping in New York. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pleasant experience – it got hot very fast and couldn’t run the AC except during two hour blocks in the morning an evening. couple that with an inaccessible fridge and no way to charge/use electronics and you end up with a very cranky wife, kids, and husband.

      Beautiful site but far from anything and limited generator hours

      When we decided to camp in Chicago, the only place available, that wasn’t an hour outside of the city, was a parking lot near the convention center. It was just a place to park – no hookups. I was nervos, so say the least. But, this time, things were a bit different – we had larger battery banks to run/charge our electronics a large water tank, a large gas tank for AC, no restrictions on AC use, and a much bigger fridge. We also did a lot of planning ahead of time – researching activities to keep us out of the RV during the height of the heat, pre-cooking food so we could keep cooking to a minimum, thus not heating up our RV unit, and covering all of our windows with space blankets to keep out as much heat as possible.

      Not much to look at but we could constantly run the generator and it was close to everything

      The results were much better this time around. Our location was ideal for exploring the city with our boys. It also encouraged us to get out more and stay home less.

      I’m not sure what’s more amazing -that they’re in the bike or that they’re sitting next to each other nicely 🤔😆

      The unknown cost however, is there. While we could run the AC to keep things cool, it does drain the gas tankl. By the time we made it to our last day, we were down to aquater of a tank of gas. After doing the math we discovered that we spent about $30 a day in gas, on top of $35 a night to park. That’s about the same as staying at a nice KOA, just without the ammenities.

      Pro:

      • Cheaper
      • Awesome location
      • Encouraged us to get out of the RV

      Con

      • More money to run the air conditioner
      • No Amenities
      • No shade

      I think, overall, it was a great experience. We got to see a lot of Chicago. But I’m also glad we didn’t stay longer. Maybe Ill give this boondocking thing another try.